In the past four years, WikiLeaks has had their Twitter accounts secretly spied on, been forced to forfeit most of their funding after credit card companies unilaterally cut them off, had the FBI place an informant inside their news organization, watched their supporters hauled before a grand jury, and been the victim of the UK spy agency GCHQ hacking of their website and spying on their readers.
Now we’ve learned that, as The Guardian reported on Sunday, the Justice Department got a warrant in 2012 to seize the contents — plus the metadata on emails received, sent, drafted and deleted — of three WikiLeaks’ staffers’ personal Gmail accounts, which was inexplicably kept secret from them for almost two and a half years…
Most journalists and press freedom groups have been inexplicably quiet about the Justice Department’s treatment of WikiLeaks and its staffers ever since, despite the fact that there has been a (justified) backlash against the rest of the Justice Department’s attempt to subpoena reporters’ phone call records and spy on their emails. But almost all of the tactics used against WikiLeaks by the Justice Department in their war on leaks were also used against mainstream news organizations.
For example, after The Washington Post revealed in 2013 the Justice Department had gotten a warrant for the personal Gmail account of Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010 without his knowledge by explicitly accusing him of being an espionage “co-conspirator” (for having the audacity to arrange to confidentially speak with a source), journalists and privacy advocates understandably reacted in shock and outrage.
WikiLeaks staffers faced virtually the same tactics: they had their Gmail seized by the government in secret, they didn’t find out for years after the fact (so they had no way to challenge it) and, according to WikiLeaks’ lawyers, the warrant specifically indicates the Justice Department is investigating WikiLeaks for “conspiracy to commit espionage.” …
Unfortunately the news world has never rallied around WikiLeaks’ First Amendment rights the way they should — sometimes even refusing to acknowledge they are a journalism organization, perhaps because they dare to do things a little differently than the mainstream media, or because WikiLeaks tweets provocative political opinions, or because they think its founder, Julian Assange, is an unsympathetic figure.
Those are all disgraceful excuses to ignore the government’s overreach: the rights of news organizations everywhere are under just as much threat whether the government reads the private emails of staffers at WikiLeaks, Fox News or the Associated Press.